Friday, May 18, 2007

Jazzing up the syllabus

Recently I read a great article called The Promising Syllabus from James Lang, who writes a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education. This article got me thinking about my syllabi: what I include, the order of content, the number of "professor says 'no'" statements, and so on. Bottom line, it made me realize why I hate going over the syllabus the first night of class...boring, irrelevant, pessimistic. How can I write a syllabus that gets students -- and me -- excited about the course?

One strategy I have used is to start with a recent position announcement for a job that students would be interested in. Then, I use the position announcement to describe what we will do in the course, and how the course activities will help them prepare to apply for positions like the ones in the announcement. Here is an example:

Another example is to start the syllabus with vignettes or questions that grab students' attention, and then go on to describe how the course will help students address the challenges presented in the vignettes or answer the questions posed. Here is an example:

And yet another example is to sprinkle fun activities throughout the syllabus to grab students' attention, for example:

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